40K: The RPG Setting We Need

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With Dark Heresy all but gone, it’s time to find a new home for the Grrim Darkness of the 41st Millennium…

The temple gleamed alabaster in the light of the fading sun. A crescent moon stretched towards the stars–a relic of those who had claimed the world before. And now, from within, an eerie chanting could be heard. As the guardsmen approached, they saw them–men and women dressed in robes, worshipping an altar of machinery and malice. Malignant power coursed over them–whatever lay in the heart of this temple had awakened…

40K is a setting that is ripe for gaming. It has everything–countless foes and conflicts, doomed planets, healthy worlds, massive ships, ancient temples, powerful artefacts and magics that are best left untouched (but that we can’t help but collect just the same). It’s one of the reasons that Warhammer 40K is such a popular wargame. And for a time, we had Dark Heresy–but now that’s all but gone the way of the Squats.

Time to reset the clock again…

Which is a shame, because 40K is ripe for an RPG. It’s the kind of setting where you can really dig in and explore the world that you might not get to see outside of the tabletop. It’s a chance to unpack the fluff and tell the kind of heroic stories that unfold against a backdrop of endless war, where a rookie Inquisitor and a retinue of put-upon, cynical, psychotic Guardsmen save(?) the Empire from–well, we’re not exactly sure, but it’s definitely something!

And with rumors of Warhammer Fantasy getting a new RPG, I hope that 40K gets its own RPG. Here’s why:

Worlds to Explore

The Imperium of Man is impossibly big. And even that doesn’t incorporate the entirety of the galaxy in 40K. And more than that, just reading through the Lore, it’s clear that not only are there a ton of worlds, but there’s a ton of variety to the worlds. You have Death Worlds (both frozen and magma), mysterious worlds littered with the ruins of civilizations that have come before, like Arthas Moloch, where strange and powerful devices from forgotten ages lie waiting to be discovered.

You know what, maybe let’s not explore this place… what if we went to a sunny resort world instead?

There’s also the places where the people of the galaxy come together–trading ports and waystations where the scum of the galaxy mix with the high and mighty. Whatever the world you decide on, there’s adventure to be had.

You want a fight? No problem!

Sure, in the Grim Darkness of the 41st Millennium, there is only war. But among that war are a hundred thousand smaller conflicts waiting to happen. There’s no shortage of enemies in the galaxy. Whether you’re talking about chaos cultists, genestealer cults, xenos cults (man there are a lot of cults in this place), or rogue members of the Adeptus Mechanicus. And that’s just the various flavors of human enemies.

There’s a ton more out there. Orks, Eldar, Dark Eldar… or if you prefer, there are also feral monsters. Things like the deadly razorwings or Bruul parasite wait in forbidding worlds to devour you whole. One of the best things about an RPG is finding foes that challenge you and one of the hallmarks of a good Sci-Fi game is encountering never-before-seen creatures (and shooting them with your lasgun, often to little effect).

Thrilling Heroics

But most of all, the galaxy of the 41st Millennium is one that is in need of heroes. Pick up any book in the Black Library or flip through the pages of a codex where they aren’t introducing new ways of tabling your opponent by the end of your first shooting phase, and you’ll find tales of heroics throughout the galaxy. Whether it’s desperate last stands, or a squad of guardsmen racing to try and stop a chaos ritual before it can consume the world, or a Rogue Trader rescuing citizens from the path of an exterminatus order, there is no end of opportunity to be big damn heroes in the 41st millennium.

Of course, as often as not, these heroics are just a momentary bubble in an oncoming tide of darkness, because after all, the darkness is grim here in the future, but, it’s nice to be able to either offer up an example of contrast or to make hard decisions. These are challenges that any game can present, but one that 40K does really well. It’s one of the biggest strengths of the setting.


Anyway, those are just some of the reasons I’m hoping 40K gets another RPG. I’d like to see a system that can handle smaller tactical encounters as well as big ships–but I know that runs the risk of either overreaching or oversimplifying. So what would you want to see in a new 40K RPG? There’s a lot to consider. Would you want to try what FFG did and have the full power spectrum of Tau civilian to Space Marine in Terminator Armor represented? I’m not so sure it’s the best idea–it led to some of the problems that plagued Dark Heresy.

Still, I think picking a swath of 40K, maybe something like the Inquisition or Rogue Traders, and then really fleshing it out would be a good start.

How would *you* handle roleplaying in the 41st Millennium?

  • Bran D

    Yea sure, until your DM kills you with a Catachan Face-Eater…

  • Moke

    Hey, I’m running a Dark Heresy campaign at the moment. I bloody love that system. It’s so much more streamlined than D&D and there’s much less faffing about. None of this D20+2+5+1+pi stuff. You roll your d100, compare it to your stats, DONE.

    • vlad78

      Still too cumbersome with far too many rules and the class system is just awful. Returning to something similar to the old wfrp career path system with more freedom to change and learn other things coupled with the old rogue trader book would be Best. Ffg games locked the career paths and it made sensé only for a few of them while killing creativity. What if à sororitas just décided to flee and start a new life as scavenger ? Not possible. Everything should be possible. Bring back the basic and advanced careers.

      • Morten Jørgensen

        Black crusade, Only war and Dark heresy 2nd edition has a more streamlined system and the players have more freedom in how they develop their characters.

        • vlad78

          I’ll have to read those, never touched Only war and BC and DH 2nd. But still the options are too cumbersome, the numbers of skills and perks are too wide, why mix cyber equipments with talents? Imho trying to figure every possibility like every FFG games did just restrict what you can really do. The character sheet should be as simple as possible and really intuitive. it should be possible to understand what Skills and talents are about only with their name without having to search for the precise rule.

          • Shawn

            But then it wouldn’t be a Games Workshop game then, would it? ( Just being snarky, but I know what you mean. I have DW rpg.)

          • Randumbwon

            So you’re admitting to not knowing anything FFG put out past their first runs for the 40k RPG and you’re unhappy with it?

            I’ll never understand why RPG players complain about game systems lacking creativity when it is up to the playgroup to choose what to use, what to throw out, and what to change entirely. Seriously sounds like someone else lacks the creativity.

            I have never once seen a simple, intuitive character sheet for any RPG ever. I’m sure you have some valid points somewhere that could lead to productive discourse, but it’s all lost in searing wasteland of salt.

          • vlad78

            Hum, I love talking with Jerks who can’t read. Like I said I played DH RT DW which are the main systems and maybe 80% of their books related to 40k. Those early 40k runs did frankly run quite along time. No I didn’t try DH 2d ed and I confessed it but given that few sourcebooks were adapted to 2nd ed, I think my assessment is still valid.

            And I don’t see how it might be related to a playgroup ability to choose what to use. FFG games are totally integrated, I mean you seldom can just ignore a part of their systems given that lots of special rules connect each part of their rulesets. If I want to ignore the progression system, I might as well start to write a new game.

            BTW if you’ve never ever seen a simple intuitive character sheet, you simply haven’t played long enough and are too attracted to the simulation side of RPGs. That’s not an offense, just an observation.

          • vlad78

            Hum, I love talking with Jerks who can’t read. Like I said I played DH RT DW which are the main systems and maybe 80% of their books related to 40k. Those early 40k runs did frankly run quite along time. No I didn’t try DH 2d ed and I confessed it but given that few sourcebooks were adapted to 2nd ed, I think my assessment is still valid.

            And I don’t see how it might be related to a playgroup ability to choose what to use. FFG games are totally integrated, I mean you seldom can just ignore a part of their systems given that lots of special rules connect each part of their rulesets. If I want to ignore the progression system, I might as well start to write a new game.

            BTW if you’ve never ever seen a simple intuitive character sheet, you simply haven’t played long enough and are too attracted to the simulation side of RPGs. That’s not an offense, just an observation.

      • WhenDidVicesBecomeVirtues

        It’s a shame Ffg lost the rights to the ip for their RPG. Their stuff was top notch. Really enjoy seeing the setting fleshed out from a local player char level.

        • vlad78

          It is top notch, I don’t fault what they did with the calixis sytem, the lore and most things, i’s just the system which I feel is too heavy imho. I’d like something more dynamic with more space left to imagination.

    • BrianDavion

      if you dislike the d20+2+5+3+31 etc stuff I reccomend looking at 5th edition, it’s streamlined considerably.

  • Old zogwort

    Rogue trader was fun.

  • TDog

    Dark Heresy is fine – if there’s a problem, it’s with a GM who doesn’t know their players or how to properly run a campaign.

    Otherwise I agree – 40k needs an RPG. I would suggest Black Library just pick up where FFG left off, but include rules for more Eldar and Tau characters. The galaxy’s a big place, so why can’t there be PC’s who aren’t human?

    • Evil Otto

      It’s ironic, because Dark Heresy was originally a Black Library publication. The 1st rulebook was published, sold out, and people were beyond hyped for it… and suddenly, without warning BL ceased publication of everything except novels. (This was back in 2008, I believe.) FFG negotiated the rights to 40K games with GW, started cranking out rulebooks and splatbooks for new games, and did an outstanding job.

      • Mathew G. Smith

        Yeah, that was a weird week.

      • Severius_Tolluck

        Beat me to it.

  • Rainthezangoose

    Still playing dark heresy. If GW did do a fresh system they would be wise to make it easy to convert into from DH.

  • Rob brown

    I liked Dark Heresy, but a few rules, psychic powers and some of the better weaponry were really badly balanced.

    Pathfinder’s Starfinder comes out in August and I’ll be converting he Harlock Tilogy to that system. Can’t wait because the atmosphere, style and enemies of Dark Heresy was awesome.

  • Matt Mo

    Since they announced FFG severing ties with GW, i bought up all the RPG books for 40k (except Only War which is hard to find). They are incredibly well put together and just great reads if you like the background of 40k. Particularly the Rogue Trader books are loaded with awesome fluff. It’s a shame that there isn’t a current 40k RPG system because the setting is so excellent for role playing. Anywho, I’m actively seeking players for a DH campaign if anyone wants to participate over Skype. Send me a message.

  • Craig Cash

    I’d personally have liked to see them try the White Wolf method when NWOD came out. Give us a core system then give us series of expansion books to cover more variety. Don’t include ships in the core book but give us an extra book covering ships and rogue traders for example. This way the core book can be kept updated unlike FFG where the rules from DH1 to Only War had shifted in various ways making Only War more like a precursor to DH2, it would keep all the rules in one place and simultaneously give GMs an easier time bringing in elements of the other books when they felt it could help the campaign like borrowing the rules from a Deathwatch book in order to include a couple of Space Marines or Chaos Marines in an inquisitorial campaign. Having that much extra space does run the risk of allowing the authors to over complicate things but at the same time it keeps things clean and organised while allowing people to only buy the books they need.

  • Noah Jerge

    What about INQ28?

  • Nuno Castilho

    I’m sorry, but did someone just get to the homes of everyone that had bought into FFG’s great 40k RPG’s and burned them for you, @jayarr? Why not keep playing that?

  • Dan

    Don’t worry, even though Fantasy Flight no longer has the publishing rights, I suspect that we haven’t seen the last of Dark Heresy yet. I think we will see it come back in some form or another, perhaps even through Black Library. Although if it happens I don’t think we will see it for a while yet, definitely not before all the lore is in place from the next edition of 40k.
    I hear Cubicle 7 has already snapped up the rights for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, so maybe they will have the rights to do 40k too.